Palestinian Statehood: Misuse of Anti-Semitism

Originally published at the Daily Censored for Project Censored

Before I can explore the issue of Palestinian statehood, it is now almost obligatory for human rights activists to discuss what Israeli scholar Norman G. Finkelstein calls the “misuse of anti-Semitism.” This article is the first of no less than three quick articles that explores the question of the Palestinians recent bid for the recognition of statehood. As the title implies, the first article addresses the issue of anti-Semitism. This is important because, as you will see, some believe all criticism of Israeli policy is essentially anti-Semitic.

In essence, this article serves as a Preface to the following articles. The reason it is necessary is because the following articles are critical of Israel, U.S.,  and the U.N.  This quick series of articles will serve no nation. Rather, this series relies on history, the Geneva Convention, and analysis of non-partisan, non-governmental human rights organizations. In addition, this series of articles relies on the works of many Jewish scholars that go against the grain of the main-stream narrative.

Norman G. Finkelstein, the son of holocaust survivors, has made it his life’s work to document the history of Israel, dispel Israeli nationalist myths, and expose the tactics used by the pro-Israeli lobby. His book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, is perhaps his magnums opus on the subject.

In the book, Finkelstein documents how Jewish American right-winged thinkers began to redefine the meaning of the word anti-Semitic. In particular, Finkelstein points to a book published by Nathan and Ruth Ann Perlmutter titled The Real Anti-Semitism (1982). In a nutshell, Finkelstein explains, “Classical anti-Semitism of the type that targeted Jews simply for being Jewish, according to the Perlmutters, no long posed a potent danger in the United States…A new type of anti-Semitism, however, had replaced it. This ‘real’ anti-Semitism was defined by the Perlumetters as any challenge inimical to Jewish interests…Practically, this meant pinning the epithet ‘anti-Semitic’ on domestic challenges to Jewish class privilege and political power as well as on global challenges to Israeli hegemony.”

Finkelstein goes on, “American Jewish elites were, in effect and in plain sight, cynically appropriating ‘anti-Semitism’ –a historical phenomenon replete with suffering and martyrdom, on the one hand, and hatred and genocide, on the other- as an ideological weapon to defend and facilitate ethnic aggrandizement. ‘Unchallenged and unchecked’ real anti-Semitism, the Perlmutters warned, ‘can lose once again classical anti-Semitism.’ In fact the reverse comes closer to the truth: it is the mislabeling of legitimate challenges to Jewish privilege and powers as anti-Semitism that breeds irrational resentment of Jews.”

The Perlmutters misappropriation of the word anti-Semitism has gone so far the right it’s now off the cliff and floating around in the sphere of right-wing dementia. One glaring flaw in the Perlmutters’ ideology is that not all Jews agree with what the Perlmutters’ definition of “Jewish interests”. In order overcome this problem, the Jewish elites created another new term for Jews, like Finkelstein, that challenged the Perlmutters ‘real anti-Semitism’ thesis. They began to label Jews that disagreed with their new definition of anti-Semitism as “self-hating Jews.” Of course Finkelstein, the guy that helped bring this cynical strategy to light, has long been attacked by the pro-Israeli extremists as one of those “self-hating Jews.”

Finkelstein points out that this tactic of calling anyone critical of Israel’s policies an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew was designed to “stifle” anyone that dares to challenge Israel’s actions. Finkelstein essentially concludes, that the right-wing, pro-Israel lobby’s ‘real anti-Semitism’ strategy has been damaging to Judaism and akin to spitting on the ashes of holocaust victims. Finkelstein argues anti-Semitism is a word that needs to be persevered, not perverted.

American writer Alice Walker wrote about the effects this shameful appropriation of the word anti-Semitism in her book, Overcoming Speechlessness. In the book, Walker, coming off visits to Rwanda and Congo, goes on a tour of Gaza, in support of a few non-profit women’s rights organizations. On the bus ride from Israel to Gaza, Walker begins interviewing the passengers on the bus. Walker writes, “It was moving to hear the stories of why the Jews on our Gaza-bound bus were going to Palestine. Many of them simply said they couldn’t bear the injustice, or the hypocrisy. Having spoken out against racism, terrorism, apartheid elsewhere, how could they be silent about Palestine and Israel? Someone said her friends claimed everyone who spoke out against Israeli treatment of Palestinians was a self-hating Jew (if Jewish) or anti-Semitic (though Palestinians are Semites, too). She said it never seemed to dawn on the persons making the anti-Semitic charge that it is Israel’s behavior people are objecting to and not its religion.”

It is sad that human rights activists have to go into great detail about the history of the use and misuse of the word anti-Semitic. However, thanks to right leaning thinkers like the Perlmutters, anyone that criticizes Israeli policies are now subject to attack.

This series of articles will explore the Palestinian petition for statehood and consider the Quartet options, the U.S., Israel, and Palestinian positions, the history of the conflict, and ideological influences. I will continue to favor and therefore be bias toward the position that respects the Geneva Convention and other international laws, along with internationally recognized human rights organizations. I reject the Perlmutters’ obscene appropriation of the word anti-Semitism. As Finkelstein points out, the abuse the word anti-Semite, only adds further insult to the true victims.


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